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I've got my sights set on building an archtop guitar, in the style of traditional bowed instruments (as far as varnish, wood choice, and emphasis on unamplified sound). I've been looking around online but information on archtop building is not as easy to find as for violins. Obviously there isn't a standard, either.

Are the plates carved the same as a violin, with the thickness increasing gradually towards the center? Does the back still need to be thicker, given the lack of a soundpost to couple it to the top? Does anyone know what the average thickness of either plate is, or where I can find the measurements for a good example?

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https://www.amazon.com/Making-Archtop-Guitar-Robert-Benedetto/dp/1574240005

This is your best source. He also has videos to go with the book. A  certain Chinese workshop asked Bob to teach them to build archtops. If you know Bob, you can guess what he said, so they purchsed multiple copies of the books and videos and now they make very nice archtop guitars.

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7 minutes ago, Deo Lawson said:

1.  ......style of traditional bowed instruments (as far as varnish, wood choice, and emphasis on unamplified sound). 

2.  Are the plates carved the same as a violin, with the thickness increasing gradually towards the center?

3.  Does the back still need to be thicker, given the lack of a soundpost to couple it to the top?

4.  Does anyone know what the average thickness of either plate is, or where I can find the measurements for a good example?

1.  La Venezia of Benedetto sounds like what you'd want.

2.  yes, more recurve work around the edges though.

3.  no, seems the back is easier to graduate than the top. 

4.  It's all in the Benedetto manual - getting the mold right was the toughest thing to do though - be forewarned.

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Go ask at mandolincafe.com builders section. Many arch top mandolin makers also make guitars and there are some very experienced makers on MC.

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Another source might be David Morse.  He makes violins on the West coast here (I think he is still in the Santa Cruz area). I'm pretty sure he is the same David Morse that made great archtops years ago in Santa Cruz.

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My experience has been that arch tops are more percussive with a faster decay than flat tops, and they seem to have a stronger fundamental, although there’s a ton of variation from instrument to instrument.

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I've never played an archtop, so I don't know, but I expect the sound to be a little more warm and full than flattops. I hear they also project better—no idea if that's true.

There are some things I find questionable about typical archtop design... namely what look like very thick bridges, bracings, and tailpieces. When I build mine I will apply the mentality of a violin maker (the least extra weight as possible) and see what my results will be. Brighter sound?

Anyways, as with everything, this is more of a novelty project for me. I need an acoustic since I gave mine away to a sibling, and I'd rather build my own than buy one. I figured it'd be an archtop cause they look cool and nobody else has one around here.

Thanks for the pointers, everyone. I've ordered a copy of the Benedetto book today.

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2 hours ago, Three13 said:

My experience has been that arch tops are more percussive with a faster decay than flat tops, and they seem to have a stronger fundamental, although there’s a ton of variation from instrument to instrument.

This is true.  There are some differences between parallel braced and X braced archtops (w/Parallel braced having more punch and x braced guitars having more warmth).  I had a '37 Gibson L7 (X braced 17" guitar same body as a L5 with less decoration.)  Flat-top guitars have more sustain and many sound a little more bassy and muddy than a comparable quality archtop.  You might also want to consider a OOO body martin style instead of an archtop.  

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2 hours ago, Deo Lawson said:

I've never played an archtop, so I don't know, but I expect the sound to be a little more warm and full than flattops. I hear they also project better—no idea if that's true.

You should try and play a wide variety of better arch tops to see what you like. My experience has been that truly successful examples are wonderful, but they’re few and far between.

If nothing else, try and play a few 20s/30s 16-inch L5s (probably some of the most consistently great arch tops out there, although they vary A LOT), and a smaller D’Angelico if you can, in addition to any modern builders you can find. 

If you like the idea of exploring a more violin-inspired arch top, try to find a Wilkanowski. He was a violin maker from Brooklyn who made a relatively small number of guitars that are a little closer to what I get the sense that you’re looking to do.

This is a 1933ish 16-inch L5 that I’ve had for a while, which sounds as good as it looks:

 

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On 5/2/2021 at 5:19 PM, Marty Kasprzyk said:

What are the acoustic differences between flat top and arched topped guitars?  What is the advantage of an arched top guitar?

While watching a short video of a La Venezia model the first thing I noticed was the sound is similar to a classical guitar.  Then I thought that's steel string and not nylon, hmm.

Differences are a 14th fret neck/body join vs a 12th fret neck/body join.  I've tried in the past running scales on both types of guitars and I guess the jazz type just works better for some reason. 

Maybe it's the tone of the archtop that gives an advantage.  I'd feel safer chunking jazz chords on a guitar where I felt the bridge wouldn't come undone because of a heavy right hand.  

Back in the day it was Stromberg and Regal who started it  all just trying to make powerful instruments that could be heard in an orchestra, if needed.  Loar's L-5's were o.k. but were still under powered acoustic wise. 

Maybe Lawson will become a cello maker after he's done with the archtop. 

  

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5 hours ago, uncle duke said:

  Loar's L-5's were o.k. but were still under powered acoustic wise. 

 

  

And that is where the Super 400 came from, and why the L-5's kept getting wider and wider.

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1 hour ago, duane88 said:

And that is where the Super 400 came from, and why the L-5's kept getting wider and wider.

Loar's L-5s (most of which were made with birch backs rather than maple) aren't as desirable for players as the late '20s/early '30s iteration.  

Having owned a pristine 1936 Super 400 and a bunch of 17" L-5s over the years, I can tell you that bigger was not better. Kind of like violins that way, I guess...

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I personally think that the 16" L-5 has not been surpassed, but a friend with a minty-beautiful one of those next to his 19"(Bill said that he had to wait for the tree to grow large enough...)Collings Archtop says that the Gibson is easier to play, has better focus and balance, but the Collings is just all that and then some.

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